Some things in the gospel are very easy to talk about with others: grace, love, forgiveness, and peace for example. But other things are more difficult to broach, such as the element of sacrifice. Sacrifice, by its nature, means a painful experience. Indeed if there is no pain involved, then it isn’t really a sacrifice.
Yet discussing sacrifice is not only difficult because of the pain associated with it, but also because of the sweetness. Many people testify that their most sacred moments have come directly from their sacrifices. Indeed, both words have at their root the Latin term sacer, which means holy. Sometimes these moments are too private to share, and those that experience them can only encourage others to find their own.
But why is sacrifice such an integral part of the gospel? And why is pain essential to perfection? I would like to explore these questions and others with my new study, taking into consideration the root of all sacrifice: that of the Jesus Christ to redeem mankind.
And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.
And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.
Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.
I know not, save the Lord commanded me
I feel that Adam’s reasoning for performing sacrifice perfectly captures the simple faith behind so much of our own obedience. Why do you go to church? Pay your tithing? Hold back that insult? Tell the truth that harms you? Perhaps for some of these things we have learned the reason why, but at some point I think the answer for each of us is “I dunno…it just seemed like the right thing to do.”
Now I am a firm believer in doing the right thing because it is the right thing, that is more than reason enough, but at the same time I do believe that there are deeper reasons, even if I do not yet comprehend them. Just as I believe that there are reasons and rules for every behavior in physics, even if I do not know what they all are.
This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father
Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son
In this case we learn what the reason for animal sacrifice was: to signify the greater sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Performing this ritual was to help the disciples of the Old Testament understand that their sins required atoning, and that it would be the blood of the lamb which would ultimately fulfill that need.
But this second line, the one about doing all that we do in the name of the Son, gives us the reason for our other types of sacrifice. Why do you give up your addiction? Your anger? Your idle wastes of time? Because by the Son’s sacrifice you were purchased, and his name is upon you, and now you are to become an embodiment of him. You are to do the things that he would do, and not the things that he wouldn’t. So sacrifice, that you may better become him.
1 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Peter 2:5
Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump
To offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ
Continuing the point from before, this new verse also speaks of how we are meant to change our old nature to align with Christ. And this change necessarily requires some sort of sacrifice. Quite simply we cannot put on a new piece of our Savior, until we have first made space for it by getting rid of something else. Thus, sacrifice.
This is why animal sacrifice was never sufficient to save souls, for it did not require any actual change. Those that came to the temple to only give up an animal missed the whole point of it. That offering was always meant to be coupled with one of these “spiritual sacrifices” that Peter mentions.
Even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us
When we see the sacrament prepared on the altar, we are witnessing what God is willing to offer to save us: the life of His son. But if we eat and drink, say “thank you,” and leave, then we, too, are missing the entire point. Because God’s offering was always meant to be matched with another…the “spiritual sacrifice” that we bring in return. The ancient Israelites never came to the altar empty handed, and neither should we.
Of course what we offer will not be on the same order of magnitude as what God has. That’s alright, it doesn’t have to be equal. But we should be offering something. Perhaps we could be giving up an old sin? Perhaps we could be making a new commitment for good? Just so long as it is something which states “I see what you have given up for me, God, and I will honor it by giving up my own inferior part, and taking the better one that you offer to replace it.”
Galatians 2:20, Matthew 10:38-39
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
I am crucified with Christ, but Christ liveth in me
I have already discussed how the nature of our sacrifice is to reform us to be in the image of Christ. This passage from Paul further stresses that Christ is also our exemplar in that sacrifice. Yes, he performed his atonement to cleanse our sins, but he also did it to demonstrate for us what we must do.
There is a beautiful intersection here of Christ’s sacrifice and our own. We sacrifice to become like him, and he sacrifices so that that is even possible. Were it not for his atonement, then it wouldn’t matter what we tried to sacrifice, we wouldn’t be able to experience the necessary change of heart. We might take a leap of faith, but there would be nothing to catch us on the other side.
This signifies that there is an order to sacrifice. Christ’s is the first, the prerequisite that allows us to make our own. Strange as it might sound, the freedom that Christ wins for us is the freedom to sacrifice; the freedom to not have to hold onto the old.
And he that taketh not his cross is not worthy of me
He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it
And now consider Christ’s famous pronouncement that only those who are willing to lose their life shall find it. He is not telling us that if we give up our old life then we’ll get it back again later. That wouldn’t be a sacrifice, after all, that would be a loan. No, what we give up will truly be given up, and the life that he promises we will find is not our old one back again. The life that we find will be an entirely new one: his life. We are to bear our cross, be “crucified with Christ,” and trust that as we do this new life will emerge.
John 12:24, Matthew 16:25
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
Except a corn of wheat die, it abideth alone
Whosoever will save his life shall lose it
Each one of us is given something at birth: a life to live. It is the greatest gift we possess, and it is ours to do with as we will. Understandably, we tend to put a lot of value in that life and guard it jealously. We avoid anything that we deem a danger to it, and prickle at the notion of someone else taking control of it. These instinctive tendencies of ours are good things, and they represent a healthy mentality.
But then, sometimes, the one that gave us that life asks us to give Him back a part of it. In some cases He even asks for all of it! And then those protective tendencies start to prove a hindrance. They naturally balk at the request. If we listen to them, and refuse our creator’s request, then we might be able to keep our life, but now it will be alone and empty.
But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit
Whosoever will lose his life shall find it
If, however, we overcome the natural man, we might be able to give a completely bizarre and unnatural response, instead. We might agree to part with that which we have. In this case we take our precious life and hand it over, saying “it isn’t for me to choose anymore, God, you steer this thing where you want it to go.”
Make no mistake, it is a hard thing to do. Even Jesus hesitated at the prospect of it, and wondered if the cup could be taken from him. But, in the end, he settled on the mantra “not my will, but thine be done.” And because of it, he was resurrected, and the life he gave up was replaced by one that was better. So it will be for each of us as well. We have to be willing to part with the good things we have if we are to ever have space to receive the better.
In a previous study I examined the differences between sacrifice and consecration, and I talked about how I was afraid that God would ask me to sacrifice my love for writing, where in reality He only sought that I consecrate it for a greater good. Of course, there are other things which God has asked me to sacrifice, but I do not regret the loss of any of them.
Here is one example.
I didn’t play my first video game until my mid-teens, but once I tasted them I fell deeply in love. As soon as I got away to college, and had control of my days, I would play them non-stop, never mind what classes I was supposed to be attending. After a few years I was able to ease off the gas somewhat, but basically if I didn’t have to be doing something else, then games was where you would find me.
It wasn’t that I thought that video games deserved such a high priority in my life, I knew perfectly well that they were quite trivial in the eternal scheme of things. But at that point I needed them. At that point there were a lot of unhealthy habits and lingering wounds all around me. I wasn’t dealing with them, and video games were one of the only things that gave me a distraction from them all. I thought it was peace.
Interestingly, God never actually asked me to sacrifice video games, He just gave me real peace. He pushed me to address those underlying wounds and fears, and then soothed the resultant pains with His love. I didn’t need to hide from those hard parts of life anymore, because they were genuinely being healed.
Then, naturally, I started playing games so much less. I sacrificed them without even thinking about it. Now that the real world was finally a place that I could live without shame, I was much more interested in engaging with it. I became a better husband and father, and started spending genuine quality time with my family.
In fact most of the gaming I do now is social. I play a lot more board games and card games, because it is easier to include other people in them. Our family regularly works through puzzles and legos together. Many of the video games that I purchase now are specifically chosen for their cooperative elements, so that I can play them alongside of my wife and son.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t ever play single-person games during my me-time, but it is far less than before, often with a few months between sessions. More importantly, when I do play them, it is for the actual enjoyment of them, not to escape. I do not need them anymore you see. I do still have needs, but God has given me something far better to take care of them.
Psalm 50:5, Exodus 24:8, Matthew 26:28
Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.
And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words.
For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
Those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice
Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you
For this is my blood of the new testament
There are some passages of scripture that I read, and I feel like I understand their reasoning immediately. Then there are some that I read, but I frankly do not understand them. Instead I get the sense that I am teasing at ideas that are still beyond me. One such example of feeling out of my depth is when I consider the three verses that I shared above.
It seems that there is something about sacrifice being a necessary component of our covenants with God. I’m not entirely sure why these two are so connected, but I get a sense that they really are. The Law of Moses was a covenant instituted by regular animal sacrifice, and the Higher Law was a covenant instituted by the great sacrifice of Christ.
In Hebrews 9:15-22, Paul gives us a small treatise on covenants and sacrifices, in which he states that no testament is in force until after the death of its testator. Why, exactly, I do not know, but there it is even so.
I suppose that performing a sacrifice as part of entering into a covenant makes the experience far more impactful in the heart of the disciple. Also, making that sacrifice would be a representation of what the covenant life will surely require multiple times in the years that follow.
But still I think there are things here that I do not understand, and so my mind continues to turn these verses over. I hope my thinking-out-loud on them is helpful for you, it certainly has been useful for me.
Matthew 20:18-19, 28; John 15:13
Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death,
And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.
Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Even as the Son of man came not to give his life a ransom for many
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends
The way Jesus viewed his mortal life was quite distinct. Where so many of us covet our lives and insist on using them for our own purposes, he instead saw his as something to be given as a ransom, something to be laid down for others. We see our lives as a jealous possession. He saw it as a currency, one which could be spent for the redemption of others.
I think that when most of us hear the word “sacrifice” we think that we are giving something up to be destroyed. Essentially turning something of worth into no value. But the example of Christ is not that things sacrificed or made devoid of worth. Rather they are spent for the enriching of our fellow man.
While we are not called to die for the sins of all mankind, we too can make our lives a currency in the treasury of God. We can “spend” our time in the service of others. We can “give” our attention to enrich our brothers and sisters. We can “donate” our energy to spread humanity throughout the world.
Matthew 10:28, Matthew 26:41, Luke 23:46
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul
The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak
I am opposed to the notion of despising one’s body, seeing it as a vessel purely for temptation and imperfection. Our lives are a gift given directly by God, and by extension, so are our mortal forms. So I am grateful for my body, and I believe it is a wonderful instrument unlike any other upon this earth…. But, I do acknowledge that it truly is “upon this earth.” My body is temporal and, therefore subject to the laws of our fallen world. Laws such as physics and entropy: it must obey them. If it is cut it will bleed, that is undeniable. If it is overly fatigued, its moral resolve will decline, that is undeniable, too. It must be sick at times, it must be tempted at times, it must even die at a time.
Thus, in the eternal scheme of things, does it really matter that the body might be made momentarily uncomfortable in the service of God and others? Yes, it’s inconvenient, but it is the loss of things that were only temporary anyway.
Perhaps becoming healthy and balanced does not feed our immediate pleasures. Perhaps setting aside gratification to help another seems like drudgery. Perhaps governing our bodies by the will of God sounds less fun. What do these mortal costs really amount to, though, when compared to the eternal liberation of the soul that is gained in return?
Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost
Jesus came to fill the full measure of a man, and that included dying a painful death, even one administered at the hands of others. Though he had the power to rebuke their attacks, he did not. He willingly surrendered his body to their breaking.
Never, though, did he give them his spirit. That was reserved for one being, and one being alone. The Father. No matter what the world might do to his body, they never once had access to his divinity.
By the redeeming power of his sacrifice, Jesus is able to safeguard our own divinity as well. But in return he does ask that we follow his example of enduring whatever cross we are called to bear along the way.
It is evident that God did not intend for us to remain static. We are not merely meant to exist, we are to thrive. To accomplish this, each one of us requires fundamental change, a complete transformation, to discover the divine potential that God has placed within us.
And, since the dawn of mankind, it has been taught that sacrifice is an essential element of that change (Moses 5:6). I have been taught this since I was young, and I believed in it, though like Adam I did not understand the full reasons behind it.
But the scriptures do not only teach us the behaviors that we are meant to follow, they reveal to us the purposes for them. It was for this reason that I began my study, and I was not disappointed. Through these passages I was able to find a few different reasons for why sacrifice is so essential to becoming who we were born to be.
Sacrifice is Choosing the Eternal Over the Temporal
When God created humanity, He commanded us to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion” (Genesis 1:28), and so we are justified in seeking our own preservation and well-being.
But we are also mortal, and it is in our nature to take this injunction beyond its intended measure. We do not limit ourselves to seeking security and nurturing, we fall into greed, and the appetites of the flesh are insatiable once we begin to feed them.
And so the spiritual side must strive to maintain control, to keep our ambitions within worthy bounds. God encourages this by asking us to do things that are repulsive to the mortal self, but pleasing to the spiritual. This trains us to surrender the temporary, in order to secure the eternal. These tasks, by necessity, must be hard. If they were easy for us to perform, then no lesson of self-control would be gained.
Luke 10:41-42- And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
Matthew 26:41- Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Sacrifice Helps Us to Become as Christ
Sacrifice teaches us self-mastery, and weans our mortal appetites, but that is not all. As mentioned before, it also serves the purpose of effecting our transformation. Not a one of us came to Earth to stay the same, every one of us requires a fundamental change. If we come to earth and are not transformed, then we are as the servant who buried his master’s money, and was then deemed an unprofitable servant for having not improved upon it (Matthew 25:14-28).
Now I have been one of those Christians that says I need to be changed by Christ without meaning it. I have said it only because it is the thing that is supposed to be said. I have said it while still trying to save myself by my own grit and merit. I have said it believing it to be true of others, but that I was mostly alright just the way that I was.
And you know what? I have learned that I am totally inadequate just the way that I am. I have learned that I let myself down hard when I am just myself alone. I spent a long while trying to “find myself” when “myself” was the whole problem. I needed to be “finding him.” Or, I needed to be finding my “other self,” that self which is like Christ, that seed that was planted in my heart at birth and can grow to become like my savior if I stop worrying so much about being “just me.”
Galatians 2:20- I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
Matthew 16:25- For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
Christ Makes Sacrifice Work
Once, humanity required no transformation, and no sacrifice. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve interacted with God directly. They required no mediator to do so, for they were worthy in and of themselves. After the Fall they were cast out, and from that time on were no longer capable of enjoying God’s presence. They and their children began the pattern of sacrifice (Genesis 4:3-4), but that, in and of itself, would not have been sufficient to restore them to God. The death of an animal does not unveil divinity.
Even the spiritual sacrifices which accompanied the animal offerings (things like surrendering sin and devoting one’s heart to the will of God) would not be enough to undo the effects of the Fall. Each of us have taken the Apple in our own way, and each of us know that when we did so, we stained our soul in a way that we alone are powerless to expunge. No, the only reason why our sacrifices are not lost in the cold vacuum of eternal damnation is because of the enabling power of Christ’s atonement. Out of all of us, Christ alone never partook of his own, personal Apple. Christ alone was sired with the power to break past the limitations of mortal death. Since pre-Fall Adam and Eve, Christ alone is worthy, in and of himself.
Thus when we make sacrifice, we do not do it to appease God, that could never work. We do it, as we have already seen, to surrender our fallen parts in place of Christ’s risen ones. We do it to become a part of him, to be adopted into his body, and to rise with his glory.
Galatians 3:26-27-For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
1 Nephi 10:6- Wherefore, all mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state, and ever would be save they should rely on this Redeemer.
Matthew 10:38-39- And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.